Ten Tips for working with young gifted ELA learners

  1. Never assume a gifted learner “knows” how to do something or “can figure it out”. Gifted students are quick learners and frequently pick up new skills without the need for repetition. They still need to be introduced to new concepts and often need to be provided direct instruction. For example my gifted third-graders do not automatically know how to write fluently. For some I need to provide a mini lesson on how to write a paragraph with the main idea and supporting details. Others need mini-lessons on how to cite evidence and explain their thinking. Then there are those that are still not constructing complete sentences with correct capitalization and punctuation. Skill instruction continues to be needed.
  2. Gifted students often develop poor listening skills. After years of tuning out repetitive instruction in regular classrooms, gifted students learn to cope by tuning teachers out. They do not need repetition to master a skill. Once they’ve got it, their minds can wonder. And it’s probably a good thing they’ve learned to cope so that they don’t disrupt the classmates. Still they’ve learned to rely on their ability to figure something out easily so helping gifted students learn to tune in for directions is important. For this reason, I build listening skills with audiobooks or having students share something they “heard” another student say in discussion.
  3. Frustration is healthy in small doses. Many gifted learners pick things up quickly and find school to be very easy. When faced with something that doesn’t come easy to them or that they have to work a little bit at, frustration sets in. We do gifted learners a great disservice by not teaching them how to handle frustration and problem solve. It is important to plan learning opportunities that will push limits but also to be available to scaffold when necessary.
  4. Gifted children need to be around other gifted children. Separation is good for the gifted soul. While being integrated with regular education students helps teach patience, compassion, and tolerance, gifted learners need to be around others who think like they do. Asynchronous development often leaves gifted learners caught between being immature and yet advanced at the same time. When separated, gifted learners get an opportunity to be themselves and open up.
  5. Promote picture books. Too often teachers and parents think that gifted learners should be incredibly advanced readers who should choose novels and “chapter books”. The level of deep thinking that can be done with this simple picture book even a wordless picture book is astounding. It is important to remember that our gifted learners are still children and often more complex reading material can mean themes and topics that just aren’t age-appropriate.
  6. Compacting curriculum for gifted learners insures grade level content coverage. While our gifted learners tend to be advanced readers, they still need to learn basic concepts such as the elements of poetry or plot structure. In order to compare an antagonist and a protagonist they need to know what those terms are. In our push to promote higher-level thinking, we need to be sure that the basics down at remembering and understanding levels aren’t forgotten. One of the easiest ways to do this is to provide short many lessons to compact the curriculum so that students can move on with application analysis and evaluation. (I personally take advantage of “flipped learning” to achieve this.)
  7. Don’t forget the importance of discourse. While many gifted learners enjoy working independently and being self-directed, opportunities to interact and have conversations our extremely important. Remember to explicitly teach how to have conversations (such as making eye contact, taking turns to speak, and respectfully agreeing or disagreeing). Discourse provides a channel for building social skills. A great way to do this with ELA content through discussions about text.
  8. Choices are great but make sure you include some must do’s. When given learning choices, many gifted students gravitate to tasks that play to their strengths. To ensure curriculum goals are met, it is often necessary to have some ‘non-negotiable’ as part of the plan.
  9. Incorporate multiple intelligence learning. ELA classrooms are where ‘word smart’ students feel the most comfortable. Students with gifts in different areas need to feel validated and have opportunities to develop their word smart skills as well. For this reason, I include a book study with my students: You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences by Thomas Armstrong, PhD. Self-awareness helps learners expand their repertoire.
  10. Establish an environment that allows you to be a facilitator. Our gifted learners often thrive when they work on their own. It is important that they have a teacher who is open to helping them problem solve or clarify any misunderstandings. This is why independent tasks and curriculum compacting are important. When ELA a teacher assumes the role of a coach or guide, it puts the responsibility of learning on the student. Gifted students need ELA teachers who support time to think. Keep direct instruction at a minimum.

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